Women are mistreated in hospitals during childbirth and postpartum, said a critic who hears five to 15 complaints a day from across the country
Dana Weatherhead, president of the Association for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth, says mothers suffer injuries and anguish in hospital.
"Some of the most concerning issues that we receive are women that are slapped, abused," Weatherhead said. "One of the horrific stories is where the baby was actually held in for six minutes because there wasn't a doctor there."
In 2016, there have been 13 mistreatment complaints to date, according to the Winnipeg Health Authority. An average of roughly 11,000 babies are born in Winnipeg hospitals per year,
However, the number of complaints may not reflect what's happening in maternity wards.
Cyara Bird said the birth of her baby girl three weeks ago was good for the most part but there were two instances where she asked for help and didn't get it.
Bird, 20, gave birth to her daughter, Wya, at the Women's Hospital in Winnipeg on Oct. 15. While attempting to breastfeed she asked a nurse for help.
"I had one nurse actually tell me that she could not help me breastfeed and would not be able to help me latch [the baby to the breast]," Bird said.
Instead, Bird was offered a cup and told to hand express her breast milk. She says the nurse told her to cup feed her newborn.
"[It] was kind of shocking to me. I wasn't too impressed with that," she said.
Five hours postpartum, Bird said she called for assistance to go to the restroom. She waited 10 minutes and called for help again. It didn't come. After trying to make it to the toilet on her own, she urinated on herself and the floor.
Bird said when the staff arrived, they became upset with her.
"They pretty much gave me dirty looks and when I asked them that I needed help cleaning up, they were like, 'Do you really need help? You can't do it yourself?''" Bird said.
"[They] were huffing and puffing as they were cleaning up the urine off the floor. They wouldn't help me put on new underwear, new pads. I had to change the bedding myself, too," she added.
Bird didn't file a complaint against the nurses because she didn't know she could.
Eighteen months ago, 35 year-old Shelley Cook says her birth experience at St. Boniface Hospital could've gone better.
Cook said her milk didn't come in right away and her daughter, Riel, kept crying. She asked a lactation nurse if she could supplement with formula. Cook said the lactation nurse refused and it left her feeling like she hadn't been listened to.
But it was another incident that stuck with her.
"A nurse came in and told me that she didn't want to see me back here in 12 months and lectured me about birth control," Cook said.
At the time, Cook was so happy to have a healthy baby she shrugged it off. However, her husband was livid. Now, Cook said she wonders if she was being discriminated against.
"Does she say that to everybody? Was it because I'm First Nations?" Cook asked.
She did not file a complaint.
Eight of the complaints received this year related to staff having a lack of courtesy, being rude or being unhelpful.
The WRHA said if a patient is ever disrespected or made to feel uncomfortable, there are three ways to file a complaint: through the onsite patient relations office, through client relations or in a survey distributed to them as a followup to care.
Weatherhead said many women do talk about their negative experiences among peers, in play groups or with family members but there is a fear among moms about making it formal.
"She has a new baby. She's just dealing with survival — breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, healing her body. But the other thing is there's a lack of channels to report that and then there's also this fear that [they are] going to go against a doctor, a person of power,'" Weatherhead said.
Cook said she wishes that she had filed a complaint.
"Now that I'm a mom and now that my daughter is 18 months old, I need to be an example for her," Cook said. "I need to show her how to react when people do things to you that maybe aren't right."